Chase Miller is just happy to be back.
Nearly 14 months ago, the Lebanon High multisport athlete sustained a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the 5A state football playoffs. The injury sidelined Miller for the entire 2016-17 wrestling season.
Miller, now a junior, returned to the mat over the summer and is performing better than ever for the Warriors, who are one of 36 teams participating in the Northwest Duals. The two-day tournament began Thursday and concludes Friday at the Linn County Expo Center.
“It’s been really, really good to have Chase back,” said Lebanon coach Michael Cox. “Last year we missed him with the knee injury and I thought he’d be rusty, but he’s just picked up right where he left off and kept going.”
Miller went 3-1 at 160 pounds on Thursday with three pins. His only loss was to McMinnville’s Michael Abeyta, a two-time 6A state runner-up.
This December, Miller has won gold medals at the Rose City Championships and the Liberty Tournament.
“It’s been awesome,” said Miller, who knocked most of the rust off over the summer. “I was able to go to nationals and worked with some guys, so I had done a lot with my game before I came back for the regular season.”
Miller forced his way into Lebanon’s starting lineup as a freshman, placing second at the 2016 Mid-Willamette Conference championships. The Warriors won their first district team title since 1993.
At the state tournament, Miller overcame a first-round loss to take fifth at 132.
“He was in there immediately for us as a freshman,” Cox said. “He’s just tough. He doesn’t back down from anybody and is not afraid to wrestle anybody in the room. I love that he just gets after it and is a great role model when it comes to that kind of stuff.”
Miller became a key contributor for Lebanon’s football team as a sophomore as the Warriors claimed the MWC title. But in the opening round of the state playoffs, Miller received an awkward blow to the knee while blocking for a teammate.
He remained in the game before eventually coming out.
“It was a kickoff return play and one of my buddies, Cole Sipos, was running with the ball,” Miller remembered. “He got tackled and his helmet went right to my knee. I kept playing because I thought I just hyperextended it, but (the coaches) pulled me out after a while because I was moving too slow. Then I got it checked out and it ended up being worse than we thought.”
The diagnosis was a torn PCL.
Miller watched from the sidelines as Lebanon won its next three games to claim the school’s first football championship. Unable to play, Miller became the team’s biggest fan.
“It sucked, but I was so proud of them,” Miller said. “It was awesome for them to finish it.”
After months of rehab, Miller slowly worked his way into shape during the summer. He wore a knee brace during football season but is now wrestling without one.
Miller’s strength and mobility has fully returned. The attitude never left.
“We didn’t have a 182-pounder today, and he goes, ‘hey coach, I’ll wrestle 182,’” Cox said. “And I go, ‘well, that’s awesome, but if you wrestle 182 you’ll be stuck there for the rest of the year because of the way the set plans work.’
“He is a grinder. Just every day in practice and every day at meets.”
The Warriors finished 2-3 in the Dick Weisbrodt bracket with victories over Springfield (60-18) and Central Linn (44-27) and losses to Century (53-27), McMinnville (49-27) and Mountain View (63-15).
Central Linn defeated Springfield 57-18 and also fell to McMinnville (54-30), Century (52-21) and Mountain View (66-10).
In the Bruce Glenn bracket, West Albany suffered a 52-12 loss to state power David Douglas but took down Franklin (54-27), North Marion (43-30), Beaverton (47-24) and Sherwood (38-24).
South Albany picked up a 43-26 win over McKay in the Brent Belveal bracket and lost to Glencoe (45-30), Cascade (46-32), Newberg (83-0) and Bend (61-16).
Sweet Home’s top squad won all four of its matches in the Norm Davis Pool, defeating Hillsboro (60-15), Woodburn (48-27), South Salem (48-18) and Newberg’s No. 2 team (48-29). Sweet Home’s second team went 1-4 in the Jim Phillips bracket.